September 04, 2013

September skies

Migrant numbers begin to build

Photo by Kevin Watson

Sept 3, 2013--Hawk Mountain counters tallied 466 migrating hawks, eagles and falcons since August 15, and experts at the world-famous Sanctuary expect the number to jump by mid-month. The count includes 14 raptor species to date, among them bald eagles (68), ospreys (51) and broad-winged hawks (171). So far the highest day has been August 23 when a cold front carried 84 birds of prey including 20 bald eagles.

To see the full count, including daily updates, the season high, and individual species totals, visit

What to Anticipate in September Skies
The first two weeks of the month is the best time to see bald eagles, American kestrels and ospreys. Both ospreys and eagles have been spotted almost every day, although visitors also are seeing non-migrating bald eagles that have local nests. Ospreys on the other hand, are moving with purpose, sailing overhead on their way to South American wintering grounds. Early September mornings are offer a great chance to see colorful migrating warblers and other migrating songbirds that stop to rest and feed among the Lookout shrubs at dawn.

September is most notable for broad-winged hawk numbers which will build steadily, peak, and then drop quickly before month's end. An average 8,000 broadwings soar by Hawk Mountain each September and pass in flocks, using thermals of hot rising air to ‘kettle’ or rise in a swirling funnel in the sky, lifting to great heights before they stream south to find the next thermal. This unique strategy allows the small hawks to save energy by soaring, which helps to fuel their long-distance flight to Central and South America.

The peak for broadwing migration occurs only during a very short window of time, between September 15 and 22, when the broadwings will pass on just one or two days, soaring through in impressive flocks of hundreds, and with one-day counts totaling well over 1,000. On some years, visitors and counters see several thousand in just one day.

“The best way to see broadwings is to follow the count on the Hawk Mountain website and to sign up for the Hawk Mountain eNewsletter,” explains Sanctuary president Jerry Regan.

“Our staff updates the count every evening on our website, and offers tips in a weekly email that are based upon the upcoming weather patterns. It’s a great help and will increase your chances of success,” he explains.

In autumn, the general rule is that a nice breezy day will offer the best chance to see raptor movement, but always bring binoculars, something soft to sit upon, and a daypack to carry in and carry out your gear. Interested visitors can also call the Sanctuary’s info line at 610-756-6000, option 6, for weather updates, the previous day’s hawkcount and more flight tips, or call the Visitor Center on any day between 9 am and 5 pm at 610-756-6961.

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Autumn hawkwatch

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